The first time I thought to write these few words about CHEAPER BY THE DOZEN I remembered that Carrie (my favorite middle daughter, as opposed to my favorite youngest daughter, Cece, or my favorite oldest daughter, Meg) had written a review of the film and I checked it out to see if perhaps she had covered what was itching at me to be said. For very good reasons she had not. You see… and if you have never seen the movie you need to stop reading now (sorry about that) she doesn’t like SPOILERS. Although I already know the out come of this charming family film, it seems that every time I see it I am amazed, even surprised by the ending.
I have great admiration for the person (whomever he or she may have been) who took the book, a true tale about a real family, with a real life ending, and convinced the studio to film it. To film this light family friendly romp focused on the early part of the twentieth century with gentle laughs, and happy lessons of changing times and child/parent relationships seems unlikely for any studio to do in any decade. SPOILER: Oh, and did I mention, the hero dies in the end. I suppose they could have ended the movie with the “toddling” dance scene with the pompous, straight back, straight-laced dad busting a move so to speak. That would have been right in line with the right kind of ending for happy family movies. I have to believe there was more than a little pressure asserted not to let real life send the people out with tears in their eyes.
Lucky for us those applying the pressure to do otherwise did not win the day, and so we get one more real life lesson with the final scene. Clifton Webb (Laura, Titanic 1953) and Myrna Loy (The Thin Man, The Best Years of Our Lives), or rather Frank Gilbreth and the Mrs. do not live happily ever after with their bright funny family. We find out that even good dads who have just gotten their hoped for big break die. We have just spent an hour and a half getting to know and care about a family whose idea of family planning was to decide on twelve children and then have them - now that is efficiency. Light hearted until the very last minute, even when you have watched the movie above a dozen times and should be prepared, you will be surprised. SPOILER: Near the end a small boy sits on the steps to his home, drenched in tears and delivers five devastating words. Another scene shows a cat having kittens teaches us about birth, and now the movie teaches us that there is death and it comes to everyone.
You may leave the theater surprised, or perhaps even shocked, but not in tears really. This is too good of a movie, too good of a real life story, too well told for that. Thank you again to the studio, the producer, the director - to Clifton Webb – for a wonderfully different sort of movie, honest, without a pat ending that I will undoubtedly watch a dozen more times, laughing along with until I am surprised by the ending – every single time.